Two very defensive stocks for investors over the past generation or two have been the Coca-Cola Co. (KO) and PepsiCo Inc. (PEP). Coca-Cola has sales of soft drinks and other beverages. Pepsi brings in soft drinks, other beverages and snack foods. These companies have grown globally and fought each other for a generation for market share. These companies likely never will disappear, but the world of healthy inspirations and less unhealthy behavior finally is starting to take a toll on them and their peers that also sell drinks and products that have little nutritional value.
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While we will of course address the financial aspects of this, the larger issue is what can be inferred for society going forward. Again, these companies will not disappear, even if they face structural growth challenges ahead. This is likely a multiyear or even multiple decade event in the making, and we easily expect that the beverage giants will not want to miss out.
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This "healthier" trend is one we think of more as one away from obviously unhealthy foods and snacks to "less unhealthy foods," as well as toward what would be considered health foods today. The realization that the days of sugar-water may be at an end may be most evident after seeing that Coca-Cola Co. (KO) was among the five worst performing stocks of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2013.
The stock of Coca-Cola itself is up 9% so far in 2013, which might be one of the better performing stocks in years without a raging bull market. But that does not cut it when there are other giant gains. PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) shares are up almost 23% so far in 2013. Pepsi has all the same challenges that Coca-Cola has, but it at least has the snack food business. The chip business is far from healthy, but Pepsi has been making inroads toward more healthy options.
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Imagine this, that Katy Perry is under fire for advertising Pepsi because it entices children. We have heard the same sort of complaints that McDonald's Corp. (MCD) targets kids in its advertising, and the company's latest earnings trends signal that switching to a much healthier menu, maintaining its pricing and managing to find growth simultaneously poses a bit of a challenge. News 92.1 in Houston even showed that Coca-Cola was releasing ads to actually defend diet soda drinks because sales of those drinks have suffered due to safety concerns over artificial sweeteners.
Another question to ask is whether the likes of Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. (DPS) can escape the migration away from sugar-water drinks. This stock is down marginally so far in 2013. Unfortunately, the bulk of its sales would fall under the same category as Coca-Cola sales. Dr Pepper now pays a 3.4% dividend yield to its investors, versus a 2.7% yield from PepsiCo and a 2.8% dividend yield from Coca-Cola.
Monster Beverage Corp. (MNST) faced some issues recently over whether its energy drinks are harmful. The City of San Francisco even went on to sue Monster earlier this year, but that was after regulatory clampdowns on energy drinks were dwindling away on the heels of at least one wrongful death suit. This stock is up 8% so far in 2013, but investors might want to be reminded that Monster pays no dividend at this time.
Perhaps the big shot in the dark was Mayor Bloomberg's attempt in New York to get rid of the huge serving sizes of soft drinks. Most likely this is a culmination of many large systemic issues that have been years in the making. We recently featured something similar here in fast-food chains costing taxpayers the most overall.
Whole Foods Market Inc. (WFM) has been rising and rising, as its real health trends have been catching on for years. Is it any coincidence that Whole Foods does not sell any of the name brand and flagship products from the companies above? Whole Foods shares just hit an all-time high as well. The gains for Whole Foods also have enticed several rival health food and organic food chains to come public, some with absolutely stellar IPOs.
Again, these companies selling unhealthy products will not dry up and disappear. Trying to bet against the survival of the tobacco companies would have been very costly. The problem is that the new generation of consumers and the existing generations have been told for so long that empty calories are bad for you that they cannot ignore it. Even if they want to, their doctors may be ordering them to listen.